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Returning veterans often face financial challenges

NEW YORK - Financial literacy courses aren’t a part of basic training.

And since they aren’t part of most school curriculums, either, young men and women who enlist in the military right out of high school often don’t think about things like emergency funds, retirement savings, or even household bills while they’re living on bases or deployed overseas.

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It’s when they leave the service that those concerns become real for the first time. “When you get out of the military, you have to find a place to live, make sure you’ve got transportation, and find a job,’’ said Mechel Glass, a Gulf War veteran and director of education for CredAbility, a consumer credit counseling service based in Atlanta. Many veterans need assistance to get started with those steps.

Reservists face their own set of concerns. Most who are deployed leave behind full-time jobs, which typically pay more than their military service. That often means leaving families behind to live for a year or longer on a sharply reduced income. Some employers continue to pay the difference between military and civilian pay for the duration of deployment, but that is far from universal.

Such income reductions can lead to financial crisis. One reservist’s family Glass worked with recently was just a few days away from having the lights turned off, and was also falling behind on the mortgage.

Whether leaving the full-time military or returning from deployment as a reservist, financial problems can compound an already confusing experience. Stepping into - or back into - the civilian sector after spending time in a combat zone can bring culture shock.

Tom Tarantino, a former Army captain who now lobbies for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the method for transitioning service members out of the military is “horrible.’’

“They join the military thinking they’re going to get great job skills, get great leadership training, and they’ll have an easy time getting a job when they get out,’’ Tarantino said. But especially in a slumping economy, it’s not that easy.

President Obama spent the week pushing legislation that would create tax credits and other incentives for businesses to hire veterans, and announced an effort for the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Labor to improve the career services and other elements of the transition programs for veterans.

In the meantime, the White House revealed pledges by a number of private companies to hire veterans. And others are stepping in to help returning soldiers get a foothold in the workplace.

Among them, LinkedIn Inc. launched a special site tailored for veterans with tips and information about job hunting. And Google Inc. has worked with Veterans Affairs to improve the job search portion of the website www.nationalresourcedirectory.gov.

Eileen AJ Connelly writes for the Associated Press.
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